How Revelation 3:20 Creates a Dilemma for Calvinism

In Revelation 1,2, and 3 John prophesies to the seven churches in Asia. The last group he addresses is the church in Laodicea. After addressing the Ladocians, he concludes with the following prophesy:

(Jesus speaking) Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 3:20-22

This passage can be interpreted in two ways, both of which present problems for Calvinism.

Interpretation #1: This passage is applicable to everyone. Although Jesus is addressing the Ladocians, he uses universal language (“If anyone..”, “he who has an ear…”). Thus this passage has application to everyone and helps to establish the doctrine of prevenient grace. This is usually the Arminian position.

Interpretation #2: Jesus is speaking only to the church in Laodicea, or to only to the seven churches in Asia. This passage is meant to apply to the original audience, and has no application to non-believers today. This is usually the Calvinist position.

If interpretation #1 is correct, we have a clear example of prevenient grace. The passage illustrates both the universal scope of grace, and the ability to resist grace. Jesus knocks on the door of each person, and the person can choose whether or not to open the door.

If interpretation #2 is correct, the Calvinist unwittingly creates another problem for himself. He disproves the doctrine of eternal security. Immediately prior Jesus speaks of “spitting out” the Ladocians because they are neither hot nor cold. If Jesus is addressing only Ladocian believers, the passage indicates that those same believers can become apostate (bold mine):

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.Revelation 3:14-16

So the Calvinist is left with a dilemma. If the passage applies to non-believers, it teaches prevenient grace. If the passage applies to Ladocian believers, it teaches the possibility of apostasy.

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22 Comments

Filed under Prevenient Grace, Revelation 3:20

22 responses to “How Revelation 3:20 Creates a Dilemma for Calvinism

  1. Where exactly is the dilemma? The redeemed church in Laodecia was living in disobedience, Christ was steamed about it and ready to discipline them. Christ made it clear that those who would repent and ‘open the door’ to him would be in joyful fellowship with him, while the others would experience his displeasure.

    You have made this text about soteriology, the Calvinist would disagree. There is no problem here.

    • Hi Jay, The dilemma for the Calvinist is that Christ is warning the Laodecians that they are in danger of apostasy. He doesn’t say “you will experience displeasure”, he says “I will spit you out”. If this passage is directed to only believers, eternal security is not true.

  2. slw

    I suppose the only solace a Calvinist has in being between such a rock and a hard place is the sure knowledge God decreed for him to be in such a squeeze. Maybe God just likes prune juice!

  3. Well, that was quick, painless, and easy! The blog looks very nice!

    I also liked this post.

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    • Thanks for the WordPress welcome, the link back, and for the friendly criticism. A few thoughts:

      Interpretation #1 is the common Arminian interpretation. Calvinists might not go for it, but it is viable.

      A universal address can be made to a specific audience. Example: You hear a sermon and the pastor says “everyone should have clean drinking water.” Besides the fact that the pastor is obviously liberal scum preaching a social gospel, you would understand that he (or she) ;) was referring to more than the particular audience in the sanctuary. The same is true of Rev 3:20.

      An address to a particular audience can have an intended wider audience than to whom it is addressed. When Obama speaks to the press, he knows that others are listening too. Ditto here. “He who has an ear ” can be you or I or our unbelieving neighbor, not just the churches. The prerequisite is to have an ear, not to be one of the seven churches.

      An address can be intended for a specific audience and then be used by the Spirit in wider application than original intent of the author. Paul’s epistles are great examples of this. And both Paul and John addressed the Ephesians. It would be inconsistent to say that John’s address to the Ephesians in Rev 2:1 only applies to the Ephesians, but Paul’s address to the Ephesians is applicable to a wider audience.

      Lastly, I would disagree that “spitting out” is a metaphor for discipline. V19 speaks of discipline, however, discipline is not in scope in v16. Rather, we see the result of what happens to those who do not respond to discipline. They are rejected by Christ. We see the same types of warnings with with Jezebel in Rev 2:18-23, and with Sardis in Rev 3:1-6.

  5. Or………..

    There’s possibility #3? (“So the Calvinist is left with a dilemma. If the passage applies to non-believers, it teaches prevenient grace. If the passage applies to Ladocian believers, it teaches the possibility of apostasy.”)

    The passage is written to “the church” at Laodicea. Scripture is clear that there may be “members” of the church who are, in fact, not among the elect. Those who make a profession of faith and then, perhaps, fall away (the parable of the seeds), leave of their own volition (“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” [1 John 2:19]) or were never saved in the first place even though they have done mighty works and even perhaps done so on a TBN show (“21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’[Matt. 7])?

    There thus is no problem or dilemma for the Calvinist here.

    • Hi Jeff, I actually considered that possibility, but left it out because it seemed quite a stretch. And it ends up supporting the Arminian position anyway.

      If Jesus is knocking on the door of the non-elect Ladocians, that would be an example of resistible drawing grace. Thus this interpretation affirms the reality of prevenient grace, although not universal prevenient grace.

      • Kevin:

        Did you just say there’s such a thing as particular prevenient grace? If not, what did you mean by stating “prevenient grace, although not universal prevenient grace?”

        I’m curious as to how the Arminian position is supported by possibility #3…..

      • Hi Jeff, Believe it or not, there are some Arminians who hold this view! I’m not one of them though. :)

        Particular prevenient grace differs from universal prevenient grace in that only received by the preaching of the Word. It differs from irresistable grace in that it can still be rejected. #3 would fall under this category.

        Some Molinist-Arminians affirm particular prevenient grace. This position would hold that if someone has not heard the gospel, they cannot be saved. This is sometimes called “exclusiveness”. This position is fairly common among Arminians, and leads to a very strong motivation for missions to preach the good news to everyone.

        I believe that William Lane Craig may hold this view, although I’m not 100% on that.

      • Just so I’m clear, Kevin, what is your definition of prevenient grace?

      • Hi Jeff, you can see my thoughts here Prevenient Grace. I do hold to universal prevenient grace.

        The difference with particular prevenient grace is that it would only apply to those who hear the gospel preached, yet it is still resistible.

    • Providential1611

      I find this talk about “church members”–as if the apostolic churches had such a thing seen 16 or more centuries later as the West developed the ideas of membership in local churches. People were not just welcome in churches back then. The requirements were far stricter, and when Christ addresses the CHURCH at Laodicea, we can rest assured He is talking to HIS PEOPLE. Forget this “members but not Christians” nonsense Calvinists read into it because their theology requires them to. There were no membership rolls or anything like that! You were either a BAPTIZED BELIEVERS and made a public, possibly life endangering profession of Christ as Lord, not Caesar, or you were not in church. Acts 5 and 8 make it plain that people were often AFRAID to join themselves to a local church. Therefore, Calvinism is false.

      • Mr./Ms./Mrs. Providential:

        Thanks for bringing up Acts 8 because it proves this very point with Simon the Sorcerer. He was a “baptized believer” but Peter certainly straightened him out didn’t he?

        I’m curious as to how one also thus explains the Matt. 7 and 1 John 2 citations – these people were certainly part of a local church, no? Esp. 1 John 2:19 (“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”) – who is the “us” in the passage? The “you” and the “your” of the surrounding verses – the believers to which John is writing.

        BTW, this discussion on church membership has nothing to do with Calvinistic teaching on salvation so I’m curious as to how it renders Calvinism false.

  6. Pingback: Should Revelation be used for Doctrine? | The Church of Jesus Christ

  7. Providential1611

    Jeff. What I mean is that the excuse given in this thread that the threats re addressed to members of a particular church, that they are no Christians, just members who I guess, must be deceived, is what is often encountered when reading from Calvinist apologists where threats of damnation or loss of salvation is seen, so the Calvinist will say things like “they were members of that church, but not real believers”, etc. It is almost comical to read a Calvinist trying to escape the plain meaning of Hebrews 6, and numerous other places in Hebrews that plainly state salvation is conditional, and that loss if life is possible.

    So here Christ threatens to spue Laodiceans out of His mouth. Since He ever liveth to make intercession for us, I take this to mean He will cease to pray for us. This is serious. Someone up in this thread claimed He was only threatening “members”, not real Christians.

    No such ideas can be found in the passage or any text the Calvinist has to “explain” to protect his doctrine. The threat is aimed at Christians in Laodicea. Only somoene’s precommittment to a particular doctrine would require him to believe otherwise.

    1John 2:19 speaks of false teachers who were trying to seduce believers away from truth and apostolic doctrine-2:27. These men were not of the apostolic circle, and their departure proves it. Mathew 7 is interpreted by Ezekiel 18. If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and dies in sin, all his righteousness he has done SHALL NOT BE MENTIONED. In his sin shall He day. Thus shall Christ say to backsliders and fallen ministers who died in their sin “I never knew you”. It is as if they were never saved.

    Calvinism is false. Once saved always saved/Perseverance of the Saints is false. Therefore the whole system is false, for that is the logical conclusion of the first four points of TULIP. If the 5th point is false, the whole house comes down. OSAS is very easy to refute. Christ and His work is the GROUND of our salvation, while the condition for it is faith–faith that is required to CONTINUE in His goodness, grace and abiding in Him. It becomes clear we can DEPART FROM the faith, FALL AWAY from the faith, make SHIPWRECK our faith etc. Christ explained what FAITH in HIm means–DENY YOURSELF, TAKE UP YOUR CROSS, AND FOLLOW HIM. That is FAITH. When one ceases to follow Him, when one begins to indulge his flesh and live according to it-Rom 6, and then pursue the things of this world again, Christ said these decisions would choke the word out of our hearts, and the end result would not be good.

    We are told to put on THE WHOLE armor of God so that we would STAND AND NOT FALL in the evil day. Many Christians don’t do that. Or they only put on PART of the armor, and hence they fall and fall and fall, instead of standing and demonstrating the victory over sin and the devil Christ has given us. Those who fall over and over are playing with fire and risk searing their consciences to the point they cannot be renewed nto repentance.

  8. Pingback: Traduções Crédulas: Como Revelação 3:20 Cria um Dilema para Calvinistas « credulo

  9. Harry

    Has it ever occurred to any of you that both Calvinism and Arminianism are false?

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